A Utah Story


Peter Grundfossen
Utah Population and Environment Coalition
March 2001

Population Growth on the Greater Wasatch Front


The population of Utah's Greater Wasatch Front (GWF)[1] is growing rapidly, as it has since Euro-American settlement began in 1847. By 1900 the population of the GWF is estimated to have been 187,100.[2] In 1991 it was 1,450,000, in 2001 it is projected at 1,800,000, and in 2020 it is projected at 2,650,000.[3] That would be an additional 1,000,000 people from 1995 to 2020. By 2050 the number is estimated to be around 5,000,000.[4]

The demands of growth on our communities -- to ensure that there is an adequate transportation system, schools, water, sewers, and other services to meet the needs of a growing population, and that air quality and wildlife habitat be maintained or improved -- have been heavily analyzed by public and private organizations. All of the governmental work in the field necessarily assumes a continuing high rate of growth.

A growing number of concerned citizens wants growth to be slowed or stopped for the sake of maintaining or improving the quality of life we now have. Their conclusion is that continued growth will only degrade the environment, making Utah a less and less desirable place to live.

Population Growth and the Environment

Many will ask, "So what?" "Isn't growth good?" Business is booming. People have jobs. In many ways the Wasatch Front has become more cosmopolitan as population has increased. We have a greater variety of cultural and sporting events. Our universities have grown and become more prominent. There are more economic, retail, service, and cultural choices available to us all.

Well, OK, but a growing number of Utahns are asking questions about the future.

Utah's Growth Rate Can Be Slowed or Stopped.

Many people choose to ignore these threats to our future. If water supply, air quality, transportation, recreational opportunities, and garbage will become problems as the population continues to grow, they ask, what can we do about it, anyway? Isn't population growth inevitable?

Well, no it isn't. Population growth occurs for two reasons: 1) there are more births over a period of time than there are deaths; 2) more people migrate in than out. In 18 years of the past 50 more people have left Utah than have moved to it, but the high birth rate has always resulted in a total population increase each year. Utah has larger families than any other state in the nation,[8] as well as the highest fertility rate -- 2.55 births per woman of child bearing years.[9] Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, and Morgan counties combined have a rate of 2.5; Utah, Wasatch, and Summit counties combined have a rate of 2.9.[10] The national fertility rate is 2.06.

In 1998 state demographers concluded that there would be 321,000 fewer people in the GWF region by 2020 than in their published projections, if the Utah fertility rate fell soon to the national level.[11] 321,000 is no small number, being nearly twice the size of Salt Lake City today.

Utah's fertility rate has fallen over the years. In the early 1960s it was 4+.[12] But for the sake of the environment on which we are ultimately dependent, the fertility rate should be reduced even further, if our children and grandchildren are to have the quality of life we have had.

Source Materials

The following are a few source materials that are available on the web. For specific information on demographics see www.state.ut.us/about/demographics.html. For information relating to growth, particularly on the Greater Wasatch Front see www.envisionutah.org. For national source materials and links to other national or international sites go to www.audubonpopulation.org or www.zpg.org/education/library

[1] For purposes of this paper the Greater Wasatch Front includes the counties comprising the Wasatch Front Regional Council -- Weber, Davis, Salt Lake, Morgan, and Tooele -- Mountainlands Regional Council -- Summit, Utah, and Wasatch -- plus Box Elder and Juab because they are experiencing "spill-over" population growth from the major growth region.

[2] Utah Demographic Report, August 1990, Page 15. Population figures are rounded for simplicity.

[3] "QGET Data Book", Third Edition, Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, June 1998, P. 29.

[4] Same, P. 128.

[5] "Baseline Scenario", QGET Technical Committee, Second Printing, February 1998, P. 45.

[6] "Population Growth Facts", Teri Underwood, Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, October 1999.

[7] "Population Growth Facts", cited above.

[8] "QGET Data Book", cited above, P. 21.

[9] Same.

[10] Barber letter, September 30, 1998.

[11] Same.

[12] "Population Growth Facts", cited above.